Saturday, December 31, 2005

Beauty for Ashes

This past Christmas, many kids put out cookies and milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Crumbs and an empty glass were evidence that the jolly elf had visited their home. I remember the year I decided there was no Santa. I was 13 and very wise for my age. When I woke up Christmas morning, I dragged myself out to the family room and saw my grandmother sweeping…I figured my little brother broke something and she was cleaning up the pieces. She tsk-tskd under her breath, “What a mess he left!” I asked her what happened and she told me she was cleaning up the mess Santa left…I looked more closely, and boot prints in ash led up to the fireplace. My heart flipped and I believed in Santa for one more year.

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of evidence for people to believe in things. From a smoking gun to fabrication, people need some kind of evidence. For a child to believe in Santa Claus a few cookie crumbs and presents under the tree will suffice. For a woman to believe a man will love her forever, he needs to produce a ring. And for many to believe in Jesus, they demand tangible evidence.

Many are like the disciple Thomas, not believing Jesus is alive until they can see Him in all His bloody gore. So where am I going with this? Do I have a long lost artifact that proves Jesus actually exists? Am I keeping a doorway to heaven all to myself, peeking through the keyhole every once in a while to make sure He’s still there? I don’t have a shroud of Turin tucked away anywhere, but what I do have something else required in a court of law…witnesses.

Look at the disciples themselves, Thomas included. (John 20:26-31) If you know anything about human nature, you’ll know that it’s easy to fabricate a hoax. But how many men withstand torture and death, because of a hoax? The men that followed Jesus never denied Him, they died with His name on their lips. (Acts 7:54-60) Would you deny Santa Claus if someone held a gun to your head? Sure you would. I know of a girl who had a gun held to her head and asked if she believed in Jesus. Cassie Bernal said yes.

I’ve known other lives that where totally changed because of Jesus. Drugs, alcohol and promiscuity were all they knew until the living Christ stepped into their lives and they changed. They didn’t become scripture spouting puppets. He did a heart transplant and they lost their taste for that old life. They were born again and have started new lives, living for Christ and not for their impulses.

And my evidence? What can I say about what He has done in my life? He took a goody-two-shoes girl who thought she was OK and turned her life upside-down. Yes, God made me unable to have children, but put a new heart in me for other people’s children. He made me a single mom with a baby, to show me He could provide everything I needed. When I finally returned to Him completely, He provided a husband and father for my child who would be a strong spiritual leader for our family. Jesus took a timid mouse of a girl who dabbled in the occult and wilted at what others might think and made her into a woman who is not afraid of what tomorrow will bring.

Let Jesus take the ashes of your life and sweep it up. He may have to turn it upside down for a bit to get you to really let go. But when you do, I am a witness that what He has planned for you will be more amazing than anything you’ve ever prayed for.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gift Exchange

This Christmas there might be some kids out there who awaken to their stockings jammed with what seems to be candy and toys, only to find new underwear and whopper-sized fruit. I know I’m dreaming about what’s inside those pretty packages and can’t wait until Christmas morning. Some of the givers spent a long time shopping for something they knew I’d love. But what if it turns out to be something I don’t really like or need? Is it really so bad to exchange it the next day?

Remember the day you decided to give your heart to Christ? What a wonderful package that must’ve been for Him to receive! You were all caught up in the excitement of giving…the package was neatly wrapped, a bright bow on top. You can just see Him holding it up to give a shake and hear the ka-thump ka-thump inside.

What about His gift to you, did you receive it gladly, even with a few tears of joy? The next day or week, when your new life was humming along…did you expect smooth sailing? Did you expect to have an easier life and everyone would like you? Or did you get blindsided with heartache and loss? Did you think that maybe His gift didn’t fit or was broken? Did you return His gift for something else?

Jesus didn’t promise us an easy life if we gave our heart to Him. He did tell us there would be problems, and that the world would actually hate us like they hated Him. (John 15:18-19) But like a gift at Christmas, this giver knows you better than anyone else and He knows exactly what you need. That gift He gave you was not a guarantee for a new house or better job. It was Grace…and you didn’t do a single thing to earn it. (Ephesians 2:8) He knows you are the only person in the world that can handle that new life.

When we celebrate Jesus’ birthday this year, let’s examine our hearts. Let’s make sure that Christmas present to Him really has something inside. And when He hands you His gift, receive it with joy and thanksgiving--because He spent an eternity picking out just the right new life for you. (Ephesians 1:5)

Friday, December 02, 2005


We are blessed with an outgoing son who sometimes needs encouragement to stay on task in school. His wrestling coach has been a huge help in this area. A few weeks ago, Jared had a bad day at school. One teacher went to advise the coach of his misadventures that day.

When wrestling practice was almost done, the coach called Jared over to do one more match. He did not look forward to it since it was going to be a larger guy. Just as he was ready to start the match, his opponent stepped back and the coach stepped forward. He realized then that his misbehavior that day was going to cost him dearly. If he ran away, he would be off the wrestling team. If he persevered, he could learn his lesson and become stronger. By the end of the match, Jared swore that he would do much better in all his classes.

When I have not stayed “on task” with God’s will, I find myself facing difficult situations created by stepping out of bounds. I have a choice to repent and get back on my walk, or stay on that disobedient track. Sometimes I rebel and the wrestling match begins. At first I face small opponents: friends or family drawing me back. I make excuses, deals or ignore their pleas. Then larger opponents step up to the mat…illness, depression or legal problems resulting from my rebellion. One by one I take them on, and exhaustion starts to set in. It takes a lot of work to rebel from God!

When Jacob was scared to death because God told him to return to his angry brother Esau, (Genesis 32:1-23) he had an idea. He sent gifts, his wives and children on ahead to greet his brother who was coming with 400 men. (Nice guy!) When they had gone and he was left alone, he found himself in a major wrestling match with a heavenly stranger. (Genesis 32:24-32) He did not give up and he wrestled until daybreak. Finally he asked to be blessed, and refused to let go of his opponent until he received a blessing. The consequence of his determination was a permanent limp. His name was changed from Jacob: “the replacement” to a new name: Israel—“who prevails with God”.

When I am in direct disobedience to God, I sometimes find myself in the ultimate smackdown …and let me tell you there is no way you can win when wrestling God Himself. He is stronger, knows all your tricks and excuses and will never let up. It’s best to not run away. So repent, take your licks, and humble yourself --you could come away forever changed and possibly win a new nickname: Victor. (Philippians 4:13)